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Taboo tattoo? Tattoo artist sued for copyright violation.

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2021 | Intellectual Property

When it comes to tattoo artists, few are as well known as Kat Von D. The entrepreneur received fame after her stint on TLC’s “L.A. Ink” and has a huge following on social media. Her ability to recreate artwork onto the bodies of her clients is impressive and has gained her the attention of a not-so-secret admirer.

Photographer Jeff Sedlik ran a series of photos in JAZZIZ magazine in 1989. One of them, an iconic shot of jazz musician Miles Davis, was featured in the magazine’s “Pictures of the Year” issue. This photo has become an iconic representation of the musician, one Kat Von D has been able to replicate beautifully on her clients.

The problem? The photographer owns copyright over the photo and has not given Von D permission to use the image. Ideally, the photograph claims the tattoo artist would request a license before moving forward with use of the image. This is not the first time a tattoo has found itself in the legal spotlight. The movie The Hangover: Part II included a scene where a main character wakes up to find he had gotten a replica of the famous boxer Mike Tyson’s iconic face tattoo. The artist behind Mr. Tyson’s tattoo registered the design with the United States Copyright Office. He sued for infringement, but the case settled out of court.

The courts have yet to issue a decision on this type of case, so it is unclear where copyright protections in these cases could extend. One possible defense: fair use. The tattoo artist could argue that her interpretation of the photo onto her clients altered the original version in a way that led to a new meaning.

The question is intriguing, and we will provide additional guidance on how it unfolds within the court systems as this case and those with similar issues move forward.